OMB Guidance on Digital Experience Mandates Still Pending as First Deadline Nears

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The first deadline of the digital services-focused 21st Century IDEA Act is in June.

Federal agencies have until mid-June to develop plans to ensure any new citizen-facing services being offered are fully digitized and accessible but have yet to receive guidance from the administration on how to conform with the new mandate.

The 21st Century Integrated Digital Experience Act, or 21st Century IDEA, passed Congress and was signed by President Trump on Dec. 20. The law requires all future government services to be fully digitized and accessible to the public, with specific action plans in place 180 days from the law’s enactment, or June 18, 2019. The legislation also gives agencies one year to retroactively apply these standards to existing federal apps and websites and develop plans and budget requests to fully digitize as many in-person and paper-based processes as is feasible for each agency.

But before agencies can get to work on those mandates, they will need guidance from the Office of Management and Budget on how to proceed. These discussions have begun but there is no hard timeline or rollout plan for the policy documents, despite impending deadlines.

“The Office of the Federal Chief Information Officer and the CIO Council have hosted working sessions with stakeholders and agency CIOs to discuss requirements of the 21st Century IDEA Act,” a senior administration official told Nextgov Monday. “Additional working sessions are planned for the future and the OFCIO and the CIO Council will continue to work with agencies and Congress on implementation efforts.”

Complicating the timeline is the continued fallout from the historic government shutdown, which lasted 35 days and held up work on a number of policy documents, including the Federal Data Strategy, which missed a key deadline in January.

The congressional deadlines are not movable, a spokesperson for IDEA Act cosponsor Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., told Nextgov Monday, even if the government isn’t open to work on them.

“It is my hope and expectation that the agencies and departments will strive to meet the requirements and timelines laid out in the bill and that has been signed into law,” Khanna said in a statement. Along with the main mandates, agencies are also required to submit annual progress reports to Congress for the next five years.

Federal Chief Information Officer Suzette Kent, speaking Monday at the ServiceNow Federal Summit, did not mention the IDEA Act or pending guidance but did stress the importance of going paperless and improving citizens’ digital experiences with government.

“We know citizens and our federal employees, on both sides, expect digital services that look like, feel like and most importantly perform like the things they experience every day” in the commercial sector, she said. “Whether it’s on your phone or in your home or in the car that you’re driving, and in the other types of businesses that you interact with, the expectations are set.”

For the federal government that will mean a wholesale reengineering of the way things are done, which will result in “the largest global transformation in history,” Kent said.

Going paperless will be a key part of that transformation, though merely digitizing current paper processes doesn’t go far enough, she said.

“Why are we trying to digitize some of the things where, when we really look at it, we can do it in a different way?” Kent said. “We can leapfrog all paper-based processes and technology that was designed in a paper-based environment” and develop new processes starting with a digital mindset.

While she did not offer specifics on how agencies can get there, she vowed to work with public- and private-sector stakeholders to get the government where it needs to be.  

“American citizens have digital experiences every single day across every industry. That’s the foundation of what they expect,” Kent said. “Those expectations are what we want to deliver on. We have that same mandate to ensure government services are on the same path."